Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Scottish Premier League

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit


Level on pyramid



Number of teams
12 (2000–2013) 10 (1998–2000)

The Scottish Premier League (SPL) was the top level league competition for professional football clubs in Scotland. The league was founded in 1998, when it broke away from the Scottish Football League (SFL). It was abolished in 2013, when the SPL and SFL merged to form the new Scottish Professional Football League, with its top division being known as the Scottish Premiership. A total of 19 clubs competed in the SPL, but only the Old Firm clubs, Celtic and Rangers won the league championship.



For most of its history, the Scottish Football League had a two divisional structure (Divisions One and Two) between which clubs were promoted and relegated at the end of each season. However, by the mid-1970s, this organisation was perceived to be stagnant, and it was decided to split into a three divisional structure: Premier Division (formerly Division One), First Division (formerly Division Two) and a newly added Second Division. This system came into force for the 1975–76 season. This setup continued until the 1994–95 season, when a four divisional structure was introduced. This involved the creation of a Third Division, with all four divisions consisting of ten clubs.

On 8 September 1997, the clubs in the Premier Division decided to split from the Scottish Football League and form a Scottish Premier League. This followed an earlier example in England, which came into force during the 1992–93 season. This decision was fuelled by a desire by the top clubs in Scotland to retain more of the revenue generated by the game. Originally, league sponsorship money was divided proportionally between clubs in all four divisions. After the SPL was formed, its clubs retained all of its commercial revenues except for an annual payment to the SFL and a parachute payment to relegated clubs.

Competition format

Teams received three points for a win and one point for a draw. No points were awarded for a loss. Teams were ranked by total points, then goal difference, and then goals scored. At the end of each season, the club with the most points was crowned league champion. If points were equal, the goal difference and then goals scored determine the winner.


Originally the SPL contained 10 clubs, but it subsequently enlarged to 12 for the 2000–01 season and retained this structure until 2013. The increase from 10 clubs to 12 was part of the deal offered to obtain approval from SFL member clubs. After the expansion to 12 clubs the SPL operated a "split" format. This was done to prevent the need for a 44-game schedule, based on playing each other four times. That format had been used in the Scottish Premier Division, but was considered to be too high a number of games in a league season.

A season, which runs from July until May, was divided into two phases. During the first phase, each club played three games against every other team, either once at home and twice away or vice versa. After this first phase of matches, by which time all clubs had played 33 games, the league split into a 'top six' and a 'bottom six'. Each club then played a further five matches against the other five teams in their own section. Points achieved during the first phase of 33 matches were carried forward to the second phase, but the teams competed only within their own sections during the second phase. After the first phase was completed, clubs could not move out of their own section in the league, even if they achieved more or fewer points than a higher or lower ranked team, respectively.

At the beginning of each season, the SPL 'predicted' the likely positions of each club in order to produce a fixture schedule that ensured the best possible chance of all clubs playing each other twice at home and twice away. This was known as the league seeding and was based on clubs' performance in previous years. If a club did not finish in the half where it was predicted to finish, it faced the possibility of playing an unequal number of home and away games. For example, one club would sometimes play another three times at home and once away.

There was criticism of the split season format. In April 2007, Craig Levein labelled it as "rubbish" and a "nonsense", claiming that it resulted in lost revenue for clubs and put more pressure on managers, while Rangers manager Walter Smith branded the format as "unfair" and called for an 18-team league to be considered. The SPL defended the split format, however, and dismissed the possibility of expanding the league due to a lack of strong enough clubs within the Scottish Football League. In March 2008 Kilmarnock manager Jim Jefferies was the latest to call for a league revamp, claiming that the potential for four matches per season against the same opponent is too many.

Promotion and relegation

The bottom placed SPL club at the end of the season was relegated, and swapped places with the winner of the Scottish First Division, provided that the winner satisfied the SPL entry criteria. These promotion criteria sometimes caused controversy. In 2003, the chairmen of the member clubs voted against Falkirk's proposed ground share with Airdrie United and stopped the club from having the 10,000 capacity stadium it required, thus saving Motherwell from relegation.

The same situation nearly materialised in 2004. After several votes and discussion, including threats of court cases from Partick Thistle, the team threatened with relegation, Inverness Caledonian Thistle were promoted on the basis that they would ground share with Aberdeen at Pittodrie. In 2005, the stadium size criterion for entry to the SPL was reduced to 6,000, thereby allowing Inverness Caledonian Thistle to return to their home stadium during the 2005–06 season.

Old Firm dominance

One of the main criticisms of the SPL was the dominance of the two Old Firm clubs, Celtic and Rangers. No team outside the Old Firm has won the Scottish league championship since 1985. Until Rangers were ejected from the SPL due to their liquidation, there was only one SPL season (2005–06) where both clubs failed to occupy first and second positions, with Hearts finishing second behind Celtic. Whilst other European leagues were dominated by a few clubs in the 2000s, the Old Firm dominance in Scotland dated back to the beginning of Scottish league football, with a few exceptional periods. The average home attendances of both clubs is significantly higher than the other Scottish clubs, which resulted in the Old Firm having far greater revenues and therefore more money to spend on players. Both clubs also received significant revenues from participation in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.

Despite having more resources than other Scottish clubs, the Old Firm experienced difficulty in competing with big clubs from other leagues in terms of transfer fees and player wages due to the SPL's relatively low television revenue. A recurring theme during the existence of the SPL was the prospect of the two clubs leaving the Scottish football set-up to join the English football league system, an Atlantic League with clubs from countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal, or forming a new European Super League. While some observers believed that the departure of the Old Firm from the Scottish football setup would be detrimental to Scottish football as a whole, others, such as Craig Levein, believed it would benefit Scottish football due to increased competition among the remaining clubs for the SPL title. World football's governing body FIFA ruled out the prospect of any Old Firm move to the English set-up. The duopoly was effectively broken when Rangers entered administration in 2012 and were liquidated after they failed to reach an agreement with creditors. Rangers were relaunched by a new company and were voted into the Scottish Football League Third Division.

In March 2013, Rangers chief executive Charles Green suggested that Rangers could join the Football Conference and that EU competition law banning restraints of trade could be used to overcome any legal barriers to such a plan. Green also suggested that Rangers and Celtic would not be playing in the Scottish league system in 10 years time. Scotland manager Gordon Strachan said that he believed the Old Firm clubs would join a future new 38-club two-division European Super League.

Winter break

The SPL instituted a 'winter break' during January of each season, starting with the 1998–99 season. This was scrapped from the 2000–01 season, forcing clubs to play throughout January and sometimes resulting in postponement of matches and significant damage to clubs' pitches. Managers Martin O'Neill, Jim Duffy and Walter Smith were among those who called for the winter break to be reinstated. Alex McLeish accused the SPL of taking Scottish football "back to the Dark Ages" after its decision to scrap the mid-season hiatus.

European qualification

In the seasons after the SPL's inception, Scotland's UEFA coefficient improved significantly, having been ranked 26th in 1998–99, they reached a high of 10th at the end of the 2007-08 season. The SPL ranking declined after this, with the league falling back to 24th position at the end of 2012-13.

In 2003 Celtic became the first Scottish club since Dundee United in 1987 to reach a European final, eventually losing 3–2 to F.C. Porto after extra time in the UEFA Cup final. In 2003–04, two Scottish clubs (Celtic and Rangers) qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time. In 2005–06, Rangers became the first Scottish club to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League, a feat which was repeated by Celtic the following two seasons. In the 2007–08 season, three Scottish clubs were competing in Europe after Christmas for the first time since 1970, while in the same season Rangers reached the 2008 UEFA Cup Final, but lost 2–0 to Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg. During the season Scotland's European representatives collected the most coefficient points since the 1982–83 season.


Scottish Premier League clubs had almost complete freedom to sign whatever number and category of players they wish. There was no team or individual salary cap, no squad size limit, no age restrictions other than those applied by general employment law, no restrictions on the overall number of foreign players, and few restrictions on individual foreign players. All players with EU nationality, including those able to claim an EU passport through a parent or grandparent, were eligible to play, and top players from outside the EU were able to obtain UK work permits.

The only restriction on selection was the "Under-21 rule". This rule stated that each club must include at least three players under the age of 21 in its matchday squad. Opinions on this rule were divided among SPL managers. Walter Smith, Gus MacPherson and Jim Jefferies expressed their disapproval of the policy. John Collins approved of the ruling, claiming that it is healthy for Scottish football and encouraged the development of young players.

A decline in television revenue resulted in relatively little spending among SPL clubs, with major transfer spending mostly limited to the Old Firm clubs. As a result, most clubs became reliant on developing their own young players and selling them on for profit. This also resulted in a large proportion of SPL clubs' squads being made up of Scottish players (73% in the 2004–05 season).


Due to its relatively low income from television and commercial partners, Scottish clubs were highly dependent on revenues from fans attending matches. More people in Scotland per head of population watched their domestic top-level league than any other European nation. All ten of the clubs that played in the 1998–99 Scottish Premier League also participated in the 2011–12 Scottish Premier League. Nine of those ten clubs recorded lower average attendance. Celtic had a 14% decline in attendance since a peak season of 2000–01, when the club won the domestic treble. Dunfermline, who were newly promoted to the SPL in 2011–12, only saw an increase of 939 in average attendance from the 2010–11 Scottish First Division season. They also attracted a bigger crowd for a Fife derby game in the First Division against Raith Rovers than any game in the SPL.


The Bank of Scotland, who had sponsored the league since March 1999 (the League was unsponsored for most of the inaugural season), did not renew their sponsorship at the end of the 2006–07 season. Talks began with Clydesdale Bank, and a four-year deal for £8m came into effect from July 2007 and in 2010 this was extended until 2013.

Insolvency events

During the SPL era, six of its member clubs entered administration. Serious financial difficulties first arose in 2002 when broadcaster Sky Sports withdrew their interest in the League’s television rights when the SPL rejected their offer of £45m, hoping that a better deal would arise from another broadcaster. A better deal failed to arise, however, adding to the clubs’ already delicate financial position. Total debt among SPL clubs was estimated during 2001–02 to be around £132m, having been barely into double figures two years previously. Motherwell became the first SPL club to enter administration in April 2002, with debts of £11m and a wage bill totalling 97% of their annual turnover. Dundee were next to follow, when in November 2003 they sacked 25 staff after debts of £20m.

The severity of the SPL's financial problems were revealed in September 2003 when combined losses for SPL clubs during 2001–02 was estimated to have been £60m. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) in 2003 described five SPL clubs—Dundee, Dunfermline Athletic, Hearts, Hibernian and Livingston—as "technically insolvent". Livingston became the third SPL club to enter administration in February 2004, with debts of £3.5m. Dunfermline Athletic's financial position also looked bleak, with several players asked to take wage-cuts, while Rangers chairman David Murray announced in September 2004 a plan to raise £57m via a rights issue in an attempt to wipe out a large proportion of the club's debts.

After widespread cost-cutting measures, the finances of SPL clubs began to show signs of improvement. Both Motherwell and Dundee came out of administration in April and August 2004 respectively, while Livingston ended their fifteen-month spell in administration in May 2005. The 2006 report on SPL finances by PWC revealed operating profits of £2.8m among SPL clubs—the first collective operating profit made by Scotland's top-flight clubs in over a decade. Seven of the SPL's 12 clubs had a wage turnover ratio of less than 60%.

The 2007 report by PWC revealed a collective loss of £9m for 2005–06, although six clubs—Falkirk, Hibernian, Inverness CT, Kilmarnock, Motherwell and Rangers— made a profit. The report highlighted the increasingly precarious financial position of Hearts, describing their current finances as "unsustainable" with debt rising by £7m to £28m and a wage bill which represents 97% of their turnover. The figures for 2006–07 showed a collective profit of £3m, with eight clubs making a profit.

In March 2008, Gretna became the fourth SPL club to enter administration. Their main benefactor Brooks Mileson was forced to withdraw his financial support due to failing health. The club was liquidated after it had been relegated to the Scottish Football League at the end of the 2007–08 Scottish Premier League. Gretna fans formed a new club, Gretna 2008, which entered the East of Scotland Football League.

With the financial crises and the UK economic recession, SPL clubs were badly affected. A reduction in revenue from ticket sales for SPL games and club merchandise impacted negatively on club expenditure. Players were asked to consider wage cuts and team squads were reduced. Indeed, some clubs may reduce the number of non-playing staff. During 2009 and 2010, the financial constraints at Rangers were widely reported, with the club's debt rising to £30 million.

The 21st PWC annual review found that SPL clubs made a collective loss of £22M during the 2008–09 season, although this loss was almost entirely due to problems at two clubs. Rangers incurred a £14M loss after losing most of their European revenues due to an early defeat by FBK Kaunas, while Hearts lost £8M. In 2010, Hearts were described by The Scotsman as the only true financial "basket case" in the SPL, with the club having a wages-to-turnover ratio of 126% and debt of over three times turnover. Rangers stabilised financially in the next two seasons, thanks to income generated from Champions League participation. Rangers entered administration on 14 February 2012, owing an approximate £9m in unpaid taxes and with an ongoing tribunal with HMRC. HMRC blocked a proposed Company Voluntary Arrangement in June 2012, forcing preferred bidder Charles Green to use a new company to buy out the business and assets of Rangers. Weeks before the SPL merged into the Scottish Professional Football League, Hearts became the sixth SPL club to enter administration.


Between 1998–99 and 2001–02, exclusive television rights for live Scottish Premier League matches were held by Sky Sports. In January 2002 the SPL rejected a £45m offer from Sky Sports and began considering setting up its own pay-per-view channel, dubbed "SPL TV". These plans broke down in April 2002, however, when the Old Firm clubs, Rangers and Celtic, utilised the 11–1 voting system to veto the proposals. This caused discontent among the remaining 10 SPL clubs who subsequently announced their intention to resign from the league.

Despite a two-year television deal being agreed with BBC Scotland in July 2002, for a significant amount less than the money previously offered by Sky Sports, the 10 non-Old Firm clubs confirmed their resignation from the SPL in August 2002, citing discontent with the voting system. The ten clubs withdrew their resignations in January 2003 after an agreement was reached to change some of the voting procedures and to change the distribution of TV revenue.

The SPL agreed a television rights deal with Irish broadcaster Setanta Sports in February 2004 in a four-year deal worth £35m. This deal was revised in 2006, with a two-year extension to the original deal agreed, the new four-year deal now being worth £54.5m and running to 2010. In June 2008, it was announced that a further four-year deal would commence for the 2010–11 season, with the deal worth £125m. Setanta lost the rights to show live SPL games in the United Kingdom as they were unable to pay the £3 million they owed to the SPL. The SPL then agreed a deal with ESPN and Sky Sports worth £13 million per season to the clubs. This was comparable to the deal which was in place with Setanta, but it was around half of the amount that Setanta was due to pay from 2010. The Old Firm criticised the decision of nine of the other SPL clubs to accept that offer from Setanta, instead of taking an alternative package from Sky that would have been worth significantly more than the deal signed after Setanta went into administration.

In 2009, Sky and ESPN agreed a five-year deal with the SPL where they would pay a total of £65m for the rights to show 30 matches each per season. In November 2011, it was announced that a five-year extension to the contract would commence from the 2012–13 season. This deal was amended after Rangers entered insolvency and were not allowed to transfer their SPL membership to a new company. The rights held by ESPN were acquired by BT Sport in February 2013.

BBC Scotland's Sportscene held the rights to broadcast highlights of each game first on terrestrial TV. The BBC also held the rights to show on-line internet highlights to UK users for one week after each game. BBC Alba, launched in September 2008, showed one full SPL game per week in delayed coverage. BBC Alba will also showed some live matches in the 2012–13 season. The SPL was broadcast in Australia by Setanta Sports Australia, in Canada by Sportsnet World and in the USA by Fox Soccer Channel & Fox Soccer Plus.


Radio broadcasting rights were held by BBC Radio Scotland. BBC Radio Scotland also provided internet webcasts to all Scottish Premier League matches, having become the first broadcaster to introduce such a service in June 2000. Old Firm games were also broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live and 102.5 Clyde 1.

Member clubs

The clubs listed below competed in the Scottish Premier League.


The following stadia were used by clubs in the Scottish Premier League.

All-time SPL table

This table is a cumulative record of all SPL matches played. The table is accurate from the 1998–99 season to the end of the 2012–13 season, inclusive.

P = Position; Ssn = Number of seasons; Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points; Ppg = Points per game

Top goalscorers

Kilmarnock and Rangers player Kris Boyd scored the most goals in the SPL, with 167 goals. He broke the previous record of 158, set by Henrik Larsson, by scoring five goals for Rangers in a 7–1 win against Dundee United on 30 December 2009. Boyd and Larsson were the only players who scored more than 100 goals in the SPL era. There are players who scored far more goals in the predecessor Scottish Football League competition, with Jimmy McGrory holding the overall record with 408 goals in the top flight of Scottish football.

Records and awards

Biggest home win
Celtic 9–0 Aberdeen (2010–11)
Biggest away win
Dunfermline Athletic 1–8 Celtic (2005–06)
Most goals in a game
Motherwell 6–6 Hibernian (2009–10)
Most consecutive wins
Celtic, 25, 2003–04
Most consecutive games unbeaten
Celtic, 32, 2003–04
Most consecutive defeats
Partick Thistle, 10, 2003–04
Most consecutive games without a win
Hamilton Academical, 22, 2010–11
Most consecutive games without scoring a goal
Dunfermline Athletic, 9, 2006–07
Most points in a season
Celtic, 103 points, 2001–02
Fewest points in a season
Gretna, 13 points, 2007–08
Most goals scored in a season
Celtic, 105 goals, 2003–04
Fewest goals scored in a season
St Johnstone, 23 goals, 2010–11
Most goals conceded in a season
Aberdeen, 83 goals, 1999–00
Gretna, 83 goals, 2007–08
Fewest goals conceded in a season
Celtic, 18 goals, 2001–02
Most wins in a season
Celtic, 33, 2001–02
Fewest wins in a season
Dunfermline Athletic, 4, 1998–99
Livingston, 4, 2005–06
Fewest defeats in a season
Celtic, 1, 2001–02
Most defeats in a season
Livingston, 28, 2005–06
Most draws in a season
Dunfermline Athletic, 16, 1998–99
St Mirren, 16, 2011–12
Fewest home defeats in a season
Celtic, 0, 2001–02 and 2002–03
Rangers, 0, 2009–10
Fewest away defeats in a season
Celtic, 0, 2003–04
Fewest home wins in a season
Hamilton Academical, 1, 2010–11
Dunfermline Athletic, 1, 2011–12
Fewest away wins in a season
Dunfermline Athletic, 0, 1998–99
Youngest player
Scott Robinson, for Hearts vs Inverness CT, 7008508809600000000♠16 years, 45 days
Youngest goalscorer
Fraser Fyvie, for Aberdeen vs Heart of Midlothian, 7008531360000000000♠16 years, 306 days
Oldest player
Andy Millen, for St Mirren vs Hearts, 42 years 279 days, 15 March 2008
Most goals in a season
Henrik Larsson (Celtic), 35 goals, 2000–01
Fastest goal
Kris Commons, 12.2 seconds, Celtic 4 - 3 Aberdeen, 16 March 2013
All-time top scorer
Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock and Rangers), 164 goals
Most hat-tricks
Henrik Larsson (Celtic), 12
Hat-tricks in consecutive games
Henrik Larsson (Celtic), 2000–01
Anthony Stokes (Falkirk), 2006–07
Most goals in a game
Kenny Miller, 5, Rangers v St Mirren, 4 November 2000
Kris Boyd, 5, Kilmarnock v Dundee United, 25 September 2004
Kris Boyd, 5, Rangers v Dundee United, 30 December 2009
Gary Hooper, 5, Celtic v Heart of Midlothian, 13 May 2012
Most consecutive clean sheets
Robert Douglas, Celtic, 7 games, 2000–01
Most clean sheets in a season
Fraser Forster and Łukasz Załuska, Celtic, 25 games, 2011–12
Most SPL appearances
James Fowler, 401 (correct to the end of the 2012–13 season)
Highest attendance
60,440, Celtic v St Mirren, 7 April 2001
Lowest attendance
431, Gretna v Inverness CT, 5 April 2008
Highest average attendance
59,369, Celtic, 2000–01
Lowest average attendance
2,283, Gretna, 2007–08
Highest transfer fee paid
Tore André Flo, from Chelsea to Rangers, £12m, 23 November 2000
Highest transfer fee received
Aiden McGeady, from Celtic to Spartak Moscow, £9.5m, 13 August 2010
Highest transfer fee between two SPL clubs
Scott Brown, from Hibernian to Celtic, £4.4m, 1 June 2007


Scottish Premier League Wikipedia

Similar Topics